Justin Peligri: We need more professors in politics

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Justin Peligri

“Professor” is not a dirty word.

But this election season, I’ve learned that some people think so.

Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, a first-time candidate for a Massachusetts Senate seat, is running against two-year incumbent Scott Brown, a centrist Republican. He has spent so much time lambasting Warren’s status as a non-politician that you would think she was a used car salesman.

Vicious partisan jabs are typical in politics today. But Brown’s attacks on Warren crossed the line, and they came to a head during the debate earlier this month when he said to her, “Excuse me, I’m not a student in your classroom.”

Being a professor is not something for which Warren should have to apologize. We need more professors who are able to add some intelligent conversation to our politics.

And using Warren’s intellect against her undermines the importance of education. As a student who values the people who have dedicated their careers to my education, it’s frightening and frustrating that people like Brown feel that discrediting teachers can be a successful political tactic.

Warren came from a modest background and worked her way up to get to where she is today. She grew up in a middle class family, earned a debate scholarship to GW, went to the Rutgers School of Law and became a professor.

Sounds like a respectable upbringing to me. But Brown uses Warren’s resume against her. He doesn’t seem to understand that professors don’t merely teach. For students across the country, they serve as mentors and leaders.

The GOP’s fight against intellectualism didn’t start with Brown. It has come up several times this election cycle.

Rick Santorum, a former Republican presidential candidate, joined the fray when he referred to college professors as people who are “trying to indoctrinate” their students.

Yes, I do concede that academia is stereotypically composed of left-leaning scholars. But the attack on higher education is still toxic. Our country’s leaders should be trying to foster a culture of academic achievement – not using it as a ploy to push teachers from getting involved in policymaking and political discussion.

Being a professor should be a bonus – not a deduction for someone running for office. For many Americans, a competent Washington outsider is what they have been waiting for all along.

Warren’s resume is not completely without political credentials. In 2008, she was appointed the chairperson of the Congressional Oversight Panel, and she oversaw the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which was responsible for the implementation of the federal bailout after Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. She was also a leader in the formation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established to help Americans make responsible financial decisions in the midst of a recession.

Brown has every right to state his opposition to Warren’s economic plans and her political promises. That’s what a campaign is all about. But he cannot expect to maintain his Senate seat on Nov. 6 if he continues to suggest that Warren’s status as an intellectual makes her unqualified for public office.

Educators are the cornerstones of our society, and they’re at least as important as our politicians. It’s about time we start treating them as such.

Justin Peligri, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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